Seeing this episode, which charted the continuing impact of John’s death on Sam and especially Dean, I truly do trust how the rest of the season will unfold. Sera Gamble’s script and Robert Singer’s direction kept the brothers’ relationship battered but essentially intact even as Dean in particular was falling apart, to the point where he actually belted Sam. Sam stayed solid without fighting back, and in the end, Dean admitted in shame that it was only because of Sam that he had done the right thing. Sam was Dean’s lifeline, the anchor for his conscience, and Dean thanking him for it was the first small but very significant step toward eventual healing.
Before getting into the heavy stuff, let me pause for a moment to applaud the episode’s love song to the Impala: beauty shots of Dean’s rebuilt baby on the road running to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” of course. That was sweet – Dean’s ecstatic “Whoo! Listen to her purr! You ever heard anything so sweet?”, Sam’s amused “You know, if you two want to get a room, just let me know, Dean.”, and Dean’s stroking “Aw, don’t listen to him, baby. He doesn’t understand us.”, made me laugh out loud. I do SO understand Dean in that moment, and I grinned when he asked Sam how far they had to go, got the answer “Uh, about another 300 miles,” and replied, in utter satisfaction, “Good” – and pressed the accelerator. Welcome back, Metallicar!
This tale rocked the brothers’ world in many ways. Meeting yet another hunter they had never known existed, and finding out that he knew all about them, begs the question of why John had kept them isolated from most of the hunting community all their lives. Ellen’s warning to Sam about the danger inherent in Gordon may help to explain some of it – how many others are like Gordon, too much of a risk even for John to tolerate, especially around his boys? – but it will be fascinating to see how they piece together their place in the whole as they learn more of the shape of it.
And then there were the vampires, an interesting twist. They had clearly been killers before, but they consciously weren’t any more; not a moral or ethical conversion of spirit, but a simple practical choice to survive by avoiding the attention of hunters. Do you forgive past evil when the perpetrator reforms, for whatever reason? Nothing about this crop of vampires was simple, and they challenged everything the brothers had been taught to believe.
During the rescue of Gordon, Dean unleashed on the vampire all the same icy, calculated brutality we last saw exercised against the Impala, culminating in a decapitation executed not just with coldness, but with pleasure. Dean’s rage has scared Sam before – remember the looks on Sam’s and Bobby’s faces during Dean’s interrogation of Meg in Devil’s Trap? – but this was new, and ugly: Dean actually enjoying a kill for its own sake. His reaction partook of the satisfaction he showed in killing the wendigo in Wendigo and the shtriga in Something Wicked, but without the same justification, and unlike those kills, this one brought no emotional release. Afterward, all the violence was still there, just chained up again.
Gordon offered Dean both a seductive surety and a vindication for enjoying violence. “Know why I love this life? It’s all black and white. There’s no ‘maybes.’ You find the bad thing, kill it. Most people spend their lives in shades of grey: Is this right? Is that wrong? Not us.” His attitude was an echo of John’s, right down to his preference for doing his own hunts alone and his own way. It wasn’t really a surprise when Dean opened up to him about John’s death, after several rounds of shots and beer. “Can’t talk about this to Sammy. You know, I gotta keep my game face on. But, uh, truth is, I’m not handling it very well. Feel like I have this …” “Hole inside you? And it just gets bigger and bigger and darker and darker? Good. You can use it. Keeps you hungry. Trust me. Plenty out there needs killing, and this’ll help you do it. Dean, it’s not a crime to need your job.”
Last week, Dean forced Sam to acknowledge all the guilt and regret driving his response to John’s death, and in Bloodlust, Sam returned the favor with the same tough-love directness. “He’s a substitute for Dad, isn’t he? A poor one. … You know what, you slap on this big fake smile, but I can see right through it, ‘cause I know how you feel, Dean! Dad’s dead. And he left a hole and it hurts so bad you can’t take it, but you can’t just fill up that hole with whoever you want to. It’s an insult to his memory.” Dean snapping and hitting Sam was shocking, and I held my breath. Sam’s refusal to fight – his simple, “You hit me all you want. It won’t change anything.” – let me breathe in the surety that their brother bond will endure. Dean’s shame at having hit Sam, evidenced in his attempt later to get Sam to hit him back, to relieve some of his guilt, makes me think that Dean is never going to physically assault Sam in anger again. I think the violence will still continue to explode, but not at Sam.
By the end of the tale, with the way it called into question all the assumptions on which his life had been built, Dean was so painfully lost. Wondering for the first time about having been raised to hate, raised to kill, possibly having killed without justification, and realizing that his instincts predispose him to judge and act without conscience, Dean had no compass. Sam reassuring him and staying with him is the only thing he has to hold on to, but at the same time, we know that Dean is still hiding things from Sam; part of him is still alone, still unanchored. I don’t know whether that lens flare across Dean’s face at the end was intentionally planned or a happy accident of the shooting schedule, but it was brilliant; he sees the light, he fights for the right, but right now, he’s still in the dark.
Favorite lines from the episode:
Sam, with a nod to Dean after Gordon calls him Sammy: “He’s the only one gets to call me that.”
Sam: “You’re in a good mood.”
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Got my car, got a case, thing’s are looking up.”
“Wow. You hear about a couple of severed heads and a pile of dead cows, and you’re Mr. Sunshine.”
“Sam, clock me one. Come on. Come on. I won’t even hit you back. Let’s go.”
“Let’s go. You get a freebie. Hit me. Come on.”
“You look like you just went 12 rounds with a block of cement, Dean. I’ll take a raincheck.”
“Wish we never took this job. It’s jacked everything up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about all the hunts we went on, Sammy, our whole lives.”
“What if we killed things that didn’t deserve killing? You know? I mean, the way Dad raised
“Dean, after what happened to Mom – Dad did the best he could.”
“I know he did. But the man wasn’t perfect. And the way he raised us, to hate these things? And man, I hate ‘em, I do. When I killed that vampire at the mill, I didn’t even think about it. Hell, I even enjoyed it.”
“You didn’t kill Lenore.”
“No, but every instinct told me to. I was gonna kill her. I was gonna kill ‘em all.”
“Yeah, Dean, but you didn’t. And that’s what matters.”
“Yeah. [silent beat, looking away] Because you’re a pain in my ass.”
“Guess I might have to stick around and be a pain in the ass, then.”
“Don’t mention it.”